Sunday, July 21, 2019

MACKINAC ISLAND WILDFLOWERS

On a rag and bone specimen
of Great Lakes limestone,
between cedars, lining
buggy paths, blurring the bed

and breakfasts' backyards:
lambent shaggy pilewort clusters—
sun-mad, puddle-thick
low-growing buttercups

swirled around everywhere—like
tobacco smoke, like husky
flute notes, like the ancient Native
American narratives

breezily used as tourist lures.
Or perhaps,
like Apollo
as an unkempt senior citizen—

Eternal Sunshine himself
come to roost forevermore,
to rest anonymous at last
one July afternoon

on the sleepiest,
most wonderfully
outmoded—and forgetful surface
of the Earth.

Friday, July 19, 2019

VAULTING AMBITION

          I have no spur 
          to prick the sides of my intent, but only 
          the vaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itself, 
          and falls on th'other...
                —Macbeth Act I, Scene 7 .25-28

While hopefully not
quite at Macbeth-level, I admit
to being driven

by the vaulting ambition
to someday write
the greatest poem ever

concerning the heights of human folly.
With each new stab
of the rhetorical knife, I feel

I'm getting closer to
glimpsing the top,
though strangely, not any better

equipped to explain
after the fact, the path by which
I marched up there—likely because

the worst trait in the world
keeps changing day to day
and minute by minute

(not to mention
those inevitable handicaps
of subjectivity

and translation; character defects
being so disparate
person to person

and place to place).
My latest strategy, though,
is to approach the mood

obliquely—not face to face,
but through a glass
darkly. That is: taking a few sips

of iced coffee each morning
on the back patio while
perusing a few tragedies,

purloining certain key phrases
then re-triangulating
their inclinations. In fact,

as the great Thane of
Cawdor himself probably
discovered fairly quickly,

the whole endeavor
seems to boil down
to a solitary game

of keeping the plates spinning
and explaining any
cognitive dissonances

not as madness,
but as part of life's
dynamism—for example,

privately plotting
to rid oneself eventually
of those indwelling gremlins

which one hates most,
while still staying faithfully
married to them in the interim.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

PATTERN RECOGNITION

How familiar is this feeling
that it's about to rain; how
dead simple to go and look out a
west-facing window and
watch this ominous thing approach—
less like some work of tragic
flash fiction than like the surfeit of
bad dreams you've been having—
which are, you must try and
remind yourself constantly: terribly 
real, but not at all true.
How normal for your little corner
of the world to go so
intermittently dark and strange;
how comfortable it is to dislike
what you're seeing
when you're able to surmise
you're not alone in your views;
and how encouragingly consistent
with your poor tired body—ever since
you first took a breath of Earth's
air—is the entire manifest planet
around you: continually getting
rinsed, then dried off a little,
but never again offered the
chance to start new.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

THOUGHT EXPERIMENT

It's a lot to unpack: whether
the little collective

of coffee beans I automatically
pulverize each morning—

then sluice
boiled water through—

then throw in the trash
and distractedly

sip the resultant brew
while reading a few Tweets before

dashing out the door—
was heretofore treated equitably

on its journey
from Ecuador to Chicago.

Most days, I'm too distracted
by my ongoing lack

of contentment, too worn out
from last night's argument

at the bar, or else
I just find it a little too convenient-

ly early to contemplate:
whether there is really

such a thing as
a good person,

a better thought,
a noble action—

or if it just feels that way
by comparison

when one tends to go around
thoughtlessly extracting

only those bits
which are most useful

from one
bitter assemblage—

one shit-
situation—after another.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

MASSES

Astounding—the dark clouds
which have gathered
this morning

could only have come
from nowhere,
could only be going

nowhere. And yet,
here we are
beneath them again—the believers,

sipping our coffee
a bit more devotionally,
letting our eyes wander

that much more slowly
over a few extra columns
of the day's first reading,

wavering a little longer
in the dimly lit front halls
where the rain jackets

and umbrellas are reverently hanging,
before diffidently opening
and closing our large doors

and beginning the gravid procession,
to and fro, past one another
without candles

or crosses—but because
we recognize
the damp feeling of being

audited
from an alter
somewhere behind a screen—

with our heads bowed
automatically a little
closer to our arched shoulders.

Monday, July 15, 2019

DOCUMENT

Back home for a holiday,
watching smudged approximations
of former special
occasions on television

as magnetic tape slithers—
unspooling and recoiling away
inside its thirty-year-old
VHS case—I'm wondering

if blurry is even the right word
to describe what it is I—
and mom and dad
and Jeffery—are seeing.

I don't remember being there
that time I turned seven
and the ice cream cake's candles
proved too tricky for me to handle

any more than they can
seem to recall plotting it, snickering,
and bearing witness. And yet,
here it is (albeit dark and a

bit fuzzy): proof positive
that it happened; that it was brutal
and savage—and that, still, somehow
the dispassionate world

kept on turning.
But I can't help but figure
that, if he were here, my tight-lipped
old Grandpa would remember

operating all of those arcane controls,
forcing his one good eye
into the uncomfortably
hot rubber socket

of a cumbrous old video camera,
and proceeding to achieve
his cold sober objective—like
it was yesterday.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

ALWAYS

Out of what must be millions
upon millions of those
maple tree whirlybirds,

my eye
always seems to focus
on one ruddy outlier

as it helicopters—
perilous, heroic,
and lonely—out and down

to some very likely inhospitable
patch of new ground.
And I wonder,

for the thousandth time,
whether
everything I am

is just all the things I can't
stop doing.
And then, for the first:

what will become of that heap
if I keep neglecting
to sweep it

since I'm always
so busy jotting
down spare phenomena.

Friday, July 12, 2019

AFTER THE POEM IS DONE

Of the tens of murky self-
similar thousands,
there is only one

crystalline moment
immediately after
the poem is done

in which I don't feel exceptional
pressure to explain
anything to anyone;

not the intimate
nature of my relationship
to friction and its coefficients,

not the gory details
of my long-standing three way
with Gravity and the Normal Force,

not even the vague way in which
uselessness wells up and
clashes with hope

when I stop to acknowledge
the velocity at which
the surface of the earth has been rotating.

For one rock-solid second,
I feel obligated
never to explain

anything that's been going on with me
ever again.
And when this happens,

it's such a strange combination of
a relief
and a rush,

a hybridized feeling
so complete, yet unique—
almost to the point

of being unheard-of—that
just this once, I
had to tell someone.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

MATHEMATICALLY SPEAKING

Still thinking about you every
so often, I wonder whether
the paradox of Zeno

isn't the real reason
I still feel safe reaching—
across camouflaged time

and dubiously
empty space, tiptoeing lightly
as I pass

around all the noisy hollow
containers, the trash left over
from sugary memories,

and the pale changeling bodies
of every possible
unborn child—

and if simply halving the distance
stepping by-numbers,
then fractions

of numbers,
isn't the best, if not only way
to move forward

incorporeally
toward what I take to be
your face,

two outstretched
arms, and chest—in a theoretically
classic gesture

of comfort
and genuine condolence,
without ever

having, mathematically
speaking, to wreck all that
by embracing.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

FIRST PLACE

At the starting line, there are so often
things we mean to write or say
aphoristically—but it
never turns out that way.

In no time flat, the words begin
to clump in herds,
to yoke themselves up—and we
can't resist plowing

aimlessly forward:
mowing down the clean
mentality of trees,
uprooting the humbler mammals'

homes as we go on constructing
another eight lane road to god-
knows-where, without even caring
which direction we're going.

But then, where in hell have aphorisms
ever gotten us anyway?
I remember hearing once, for instance,
that love is all you need,

that it'd be just the thing
to light the way, to show me
where I was going and
where I would stay.

But now I think
the most useful emotion
is whichever one
is still in the tank,

whichever residual feeling
remains, whichever mood we still feel
lingering in the sweaty air
at the end of our labors

once we've finally had the courage
to drop every implement, turn
around filthy, and survey the truth
about where it is we came from.

Friday, July 5, 2019

THE TITLE COMES LAST

As if we're never quite sure
what we're asking for
until some much more scientific
future version of ourselves
deigns to review
and reanimate the words we interred
a long time ago
in a galaxy far far away—
the title of a thing
almost always comes last.
If at first, this order of events
might seem counterintuitive;
the reality is, composition
can only proceed this way, since
the context of our intention
so often shifts as we
invent it—the only constant being
the implausibility
of discovery: tectonic plates hidden
beneath the feet of mountains
asleep under oceans
of green liquid methane
on the dimly lit fifth moon
of a strange exoplanet
which has not even been looked at
by the eyes of sentient beings yet,
let alone colonized and named.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

AN ABSENCE OF COOPERATION

What's the difference between
the silence
of the tiger

lily and
the tiger sleeping—
between the pale lotus

flower and the still-paler
moon smeared loosely on the
surrounding water?

Even closer
to home, I hear so many
of these absences

which seem to work together—
the quiet of morning
coffee in my cup

and of the downstairs
neighbors who
moved out last month;

the peace of the municipal vehicle
at the end of the cul-de-sac
not backing up

and the similar tranquility
of the steeple bell around the corner
during all the minutes

that mercifully exist
in between those horribly
ironclad hours.

In fact, there must be hundreds
of thousands of different
kinds of silence,

each with its own
loud dark way of knowing
something connected

to something else.
And I can't help but wonder—
which pair is the most like us?

I don't mean the species—I mean you
and me: two points,
two dots

at the top of
two necks, always connected,
always yolked as efficiently as possible

on the geodesic
surface of this planet, but never
really talking.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

WORD PROBLEM

If it takes amount of minutes
every morning to out-wake
a bad dream,

how many days;
how many busywork late
afternoons, silent

cold dinners, mild dry-eyed
television nights—each calibrated
so meticulously

to the shape
of its own goneness—will it
take to finally outlive it?

Monday, July 1, 2019

SUMMER IN THE CITY

     And babe, don't you know it's a pity 
     that the days can't be like the nights 
     in the summer, in the city?
     -The Lovin' Spoonful

I don't know; you can give me
a grotesquely hot
sunny day

any day,
and every
night: the same

lone protuberant tree,
old—and frozen
to the spot, a stubborn paragon

whose huge inarticulate
soul I could
stand in

like the shadow
at 2 p.m. that mercifully
subsumes my own.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

A SLIVER

Most days, the view
from my second story
window is enough—
catalpa leaves flush
against the glass,
with just a dash of
sweetgum, street lamp
tops, blank sky for
light shows, and red
brick in the distance
making up the rest.

I do not need to know
what's happening
down at ground level—
little kids in molded
plastic cars and trucks
pushed from behind
by wearied adults,
joggers and students
lugging backpacks
huffing past, a man in
a business suit or woman
in scrubs, perhaps, and
the dogs—the endless
parades of dogs.

I am content without
any of that—like a
sweet old lady, eager
but hesitant to accept
the prospect of pie
after lunch: any more
than a sliver would
be too much. In fact,
speaking candidly as
a tiny local piece of that
uncountable puzzle,
most days, I'm relieved
to feel responsible
for noticing only a
fraction of the whole.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

INCONSEQUENT

From no practical instruction,
I have come to learn

that around seven a.m. is
when the June sun

is angled just right
for its light to become tangled,

momentarily fragmented
and trapped

in the tightly weaved branches of
two sweetgum trees

at the end of my street, just such
that I can linger beneath

and freely observe it
fixed there: halcyon, pacific;

as if standing—like god would,
like the word did

in the beginning
before it could be spoken

or heard—completely implicit,
inconsequent of time.

That I am there promptly
each morning

to see it—makes no difference;
that I am here now

to say it—matters
every little bit.

Friday, June 28, 2019

BLURB

God, I love dust jackets—
that watery shimmer 
when I flip the book over,
that crackle of actuality
when I pry open the cover,
the arising in the mind
of undiscovered adjectives
like disaster-retardant 
and recent-history-proof.

Sometimes I wish I could
have an extra wrap too;
and that people I knew—
mom, dad, old girlfriends, and
math teachers; the taxi drivers
and waitresses whom, over
the years, I've been nice to—
could condense why I matter
and write it across my back.

Not forever, of course, but
for the foreseeable future—
I could weather abuse with
a little extra good humor,
ooze the self-confidence
of Fonzie in leather, finally
find myself redundantly useful
to someone like you—I'd recline
by your side, a glad initiate

in the first decent
materialistic substitute
for religion: baptized
in matte finish, or anointed
with hi-gloss and beaming
at a picnic reception
by the edge of a river,
in brilliant tandem
with the afternoon sun.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

IF EARTH HAD TWO MOONS

If Earth had two moons,
that would be a disaster.

Excluding what such
an astronomical discrepancy

would do to pop music
and local weather patterns,

I'd never have known which one
I was kissing you under

that cool night in the park
on the creaky swings,

after we'd dared
to dance for the first time.

It could have practically
trashed the experience—

to have finally actualized
the love I had for you

under a propitiously blue-silver
glow from above, while

privately, you swooned for
the pure whiteness of another.

The whole relationship
could have been corrupted,

likely doomed to failure—
not that it was much better

the way it really happened:
two people picturing

different things—
even with just the one up there.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

DEAN PARK

Lost between the jigsaws of
west side horizons—sparrows
convene parliaments
in its watercolor bushes

and greedy bees haul around
their gold underneath, while the
centerpiece jungle gym's
polished aluminum skin glints

from maroon to bright
red in the afternoon sun.
Near its goofy green water feature,
one child laughs, and another

starts weeping; and a third one's
head begins nodding, like the heads
of those roses out on the fringes
being tussled just a little

by the rakish lake breezes. Now,
conscientious new parents begin
motioning for strollers, produce
snacks in Ziploc bags

or another layer of clothes
for their imminent nappers.
And somewhere out beyond the
decommissioned water tower,

an old song starts playing,
someone in a nearby loft is
practicing the saxophone—or
else running the vacuum cleaner

or just maybe—singing something
about how life is just 
bowl of cherries—or was that
last lyric: a baggie of cereal?

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

WORK-FROM-HOME TROUBADOUR

     The poets are at their windows 
     because it is their job for which 
     they are paid nothing every Friday afternoon.
     -Billy Collins, "Monday"

I'm fine with these wages,
the gutter flower
and alley cat bonuses
I've been saving in the
401k Of The Imagination.
Keep your view of the
Champs-Élysées
give me the edges
of Midwestern front lawns
which nobody
owns on the 
far side of the walk.
Believe it or not,
Bumble Bee brand canned
chub mackerel 
tastes pretty décente 
both cold and hot—
The only thing which
stings a little
is having to buy
my fromages
in bricks—never wedges, 
not even blocks. 

Monday, June 24, 2019

MERWIN IN THE KITCHEN

For better—but, of course
for worse—when I pick up one
of your smart slender books,

it puts a sort of simple frame
made of un-lacquered wood
around the minutiae of morning.

It is—you'd be relieved
to hear, I think—a subtle feeling:
like gravity,

like insects' wings beating
from way out there on the fringe
of your garden;

I find myself
pausing between pages—
to trace with a finger

a certain pattern in the
grain of the table,
to listen more closely

to the sonata
of the fridge compressor,
to gently swirl

this glass of cool milk—
allowing it
to dawn on me

(the way dawn itself must
dawn every day at the
end of a rainy Maui night)

that I wouldn't enjoy it
if I drank it too quickly,
that any second—

this one—or maybe
the one that comes next—
could be

an equator,
some invisible
but significant

prime meridian,
the exact dead
center of my life.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

SLAP IN THE FACE

     This is tantamount to a slap in the face.
     -Cosmo Kramer

Can anything besides
a slap in the face
really be tantamount 
to a slap in the face?

Could any deed meet
or surpass the sensation;
can words
stand-in for feeling?

Me, seriously writing
a poem about this,
for instance—you,
sitting there reading?

Saturday, June 22, 2019

POEM TO A PICTURE

When and wherever I
look at something, I can't help
but imagine I'm
seeing the whole picture.

It's a different problem than
the one you might be thinking:
mistaking trees
for whole forests, calling
nine guys a baseball team, and so on;

it's more
like how I force myself to look
at your face while I'm
talking like this,

because then, I'll believe—that you
are really in there,
that then you can see
and hear me too,

that your head was ever even
close to the house
you liked to call
home in the first place—

it's also like standing
on the edge of this pier
while I do it,

then, gazing out over
the darkening water and realizing
this is me, all alone
on the ocean—

instead of just
on the shore.

Friday, June 21, 2019

THE PRICE

It's a beautiful thing I suppose at
first, outside my window

each morning—a hundred or so
sparrows that can't resist singing,

each punching a hole in the
cheap silence, sharpening

to a nice fine point
another one of the universe's

amorphous lumps of potentiality,
spinning one more dull strand

of space—formerly reserved
for something tedious

to occur—into the gold
of what's actually happening

even as I bend
to write it.

But I admire them less
when I descend to street level.

Walking past their lean environs,
it isn't difficult to see

that the price they pay
for their kinetic abilities—

their singing prowess, their
admirable near-weightlessness,

their sleek fleetness of wing
and of foot in the lilac bushes—

is instant panic
at the slightest hint of foot traffic

and an unwinnable war
for territory and resources

against even the least
formidable wind.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

KNOWLEDGE AND EXPERIENCE

Experience tends
to accumulate gradually—
its little green spears take
their time broadening

into fat wise leaves,
which then rain down
flowers for months thereafter,
with the indiscriminate grace

of a grand old catalpa
tree, anointing as it shelters
everything underneath.

But knowledge is a
much more brutal force—

no cart, all horse; it charges
only forward, carrying nothing
but its own momentum, fast
and hot as lightning

and just as precise—often
pointlessly so: 

only one thing—if it lives
to appreciate it—
is left any different after
it dissipates.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

PRESTO CHANGE-O

What if
the Resurrection didn't
happen presto 
change-o all at once?
What if this last
and best trick of all
was the gift
of open-ended process,
if this longest
of long shots was
still going on?
Think of that lesson—
all the little parochial kids
taught to love things
in increments,
not taught
to keep track, not
to count
blessings only once
they've passed.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

FREE WILL IS AN ILLUSION

They're right when they
say: the world isn't black
and white. But of course,
it's not like it's full-color

either. On the orders
of magnitude which we can
appreciate, everything
is grayscale—the inane details

of the honeymoon itinerary,
each nail-biting second notched
into the shot clock, every
excruciating decision waiting

in line to be made
at every McDonald's drive-thru
on earth—it's all an old photograph
being narrated-over

by a minor celebrity
in a Ken Burns documentary:
before long, a comforting
narrative begins to accrue,

a good little nest egg
of diction accumulates
over this range
of one-to-two options.

Monday, June 17, 2019

HUNCHBACK

It figures—in deference to
the youthful notions of
some warped European, who
then spent the rest of life bent
over his esoteric instruments
in an off-limits laboratory
somewhere in New England,
the whole of space
and time is curved.
Isn't it a little too convenient
to picture—this impossibly
vast and untamable universe
draping itself
all over the earth
in more or less the same
kyphotic posture?

Sunday, June 16, 2019

OVER AND DONE WITH

It seems in life, nothing
is ever quite over
and done with. After a long
yet repetitive week,
Saturday morning keeps
showing up again
with another group-
therapy session, the same
dozen eggs to purchase,
that infernal tub stain to scrub
for the last time, as usual.
We've grown not only tired
but hideous from smiling
so much at this camera.
How much longer, 
we groan, must these same 
scenes keep repeating?
Not that we're in a hurry
to see the movie end—but
we just can't wait until
all the film is gone.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

LOVE IS ALL YOU GET

All you need is love—
which is good, because after
all, love is all you were

going to get, anyway.
Devotion is contagious
(as are smiles and laughter);

it replicates without being told
until it's everywhere
like the spores of a mold.

And hope floats
only on its own notion
(if you ever looked over

the edge, you'd see nothing
but little hope boats
all the way down).

But the same way in which those
positive emotions
just love to build stuff,

there are oceans of other ones
(indifference, doubt,
isolation, for a start)

which love just as much
to come along and
hollow it all out.

Friday, June 14, 2019

LOCUS

Funny—any sunny Friday
afternoon in Chicago,
I'm still able to feel far-off
and murky as the Sargasso.

I can walk by restaurants
chumming with people
clinking bright beverages
on outdoor patios, trying to

find myself in that scenario—
surrounded by mirth,
buoyed by coworkers—
instead of locating

the only sea on earth
which no lands border,
churning circles alone
in the north Atlantic

with algae and muck
welling up from its
center—but no luck;
My focus is garbage,

my rudder stays stuck
on its opacity trick.
Okay, maybe that actually
isn't so funny.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

A POEM A DAY

It's like you've got
an open-ended 
apprenticeship 
with Sisyphus;
steady work 
designing stasis—
lifting and dusting 
under air pockets, 
dropping rocks 
precisely where they 
were already, and
parting the waters 
for a nanosecond 
with one frothy swab
of an index finger.
It doesn't pay, but it
makes you feel
busy—and trust me 
when I say this: 
maintaining any feeling 
is a full-time job.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

IN SPITE

Somehow,
in spite of everything—
everything
is always reconciling.

In spite
of what you did,
then didn't
do right after that

taupe skies lighten, then
clear before sunset,
proceeded by a harvest moon's
copacetic light.

In spite of those things
you said that night
and all the times
you failed to be there

in the morning, there's still
the smell of lilacs waiting,
a sparrow's simple song, rolling
dew-bright sod galore.

In spite of your entire
personal history, every
flash flood and furious blizzard
ravaging your background,

a holiday weekend
keeps nosing back around,
like the wet snout of
some mute little animal

who's decided
it needs you, regardless
of how stony or
deadpan you act.

No matter which closet
or attic you've chosen
to sit in, with index
fingers jammed in your ears,

the three-day forecast
still seeps in there
from a portable radio
on the neighbors' back patio,

and damned if it doesn't
still sound pleasant—
or at least
unremarkable.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

I NEVER WANT TO SEE YOU AGAIN

Hearing a sentence like this
hurts. But I think
by a large margin, the worse
sensation is the seeing
that which we never saw
coming—leaving
again just as suddenly, taking
with it every color,
every outline, every tint or
semblance of the picture
without even giving us
so much as the chance to
scribble a few bullet points
concerning its general
description, in the vain hope
of remembering
it for next time.


Monday, June 10, 2019

THE PROBLEM

I swear I can't look around at this
deteriorated world anymore,
with its overabundance
of chintzy floral prints.

Even at their best, these patterns
tend to invoke a certain
pointlessness—but the problem
only worsens

after they've faded.
Take those bedraggled
poinsettias on your
dishtowels, for instance;

or the mauve roses
in their mauve rows
on the two dusty
armchairs we

found in your attic;
or the discolored daisies
in a picture I'm not
so sure I want languishing

here in my memory
much longer—of your hand-
me-down backless
hospital gown.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

INQUEST

One by one
the burly sun
hauls in
each derelict morning.

Hours
and hours later—
pure darkness
and a little moonlight

take their
turns interrogating
the wearied
deadpan sky:

Just like that—
a whole day—
stolen.

Or perhaps—
gone missing—
by sheer coincidence?

Friday, June 7, 2019

ALTERNATE ROUTE

People don't say: All roads 
lead to Rome much anymore—

not because the import
or accuracy is moot,

but because Rome 
no longer means

just one thing to everyone.
Right now, it's more popular

to declare: Love is love—
but I don't think that one's

exactly true either.
I've been there, and believe me

I tried to do as the Romans do.
I stripped nude and called out to you

from the dark Romanesque shadows
cast by that word,

but I felt stupid, which made you
feel ugly and vulnerable. I swear

I tried so hard to love you
every way I could think to;

I explored every avenue,
tested every alternate route.

But it was no use,
when I tried to explain

these strange new directions—
they didn't make any sense to you.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

THE THINKING BRAIN

     Why do the phenomenon and its preconditions 
     exist in the first place? Why not a different mode 
     of evolution not present on this planet that might 
     have produced a different kind of thinking brain?
     -Edward O. Wilson, The Origins of Creativity 

Ingenious though it is
the thinking brain
has the hardest time conceiving
of its opposite:
a simple star-shaped lump
of flesh
which moves around a lot
but doesn't
accomplish much.
To the mind
the blind utility of muscle
is inconceivable.
And it's probably best
it remains so.
How we could come
to love one another
with just the prerequisite
of taking up space
is a hard enough
puzzle to solve as it is.
If we truly believed
these bodies were real
we wouldn't want
anything to do with ourselves.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

GOD COMPLEX

The ego,
I think, must not be
a temple, since

not even Christ—pissed off
though he is

with a little
harmless competition
from local business—

would willingly wreck his
in the name of salvation.

And really who
could blame him? Look at
how magisterial! the thing is.

But then, think
of all the patents—
held in the name of
somebody else—

that must have been needed
in order to erect it.

No, I think
the ego is more like
one of those
tiny pointed paper cups:

a disposable cone
which can never stand up
on its own

and which gets
overfilled easily—

yet it's always
so startling
when it starts to spill over.

On our humblest
days, we might feel
blessed

by the sensation
of runoff dripping
down on our foreheads.

On all the questionable
rest—anointed.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

CAUTIONARY TALE

In the future—public space
has been banned as
too dangerous 

for nakedly
showcasing the species
at its worst;

without a license, with no
credentials whatsoever,
any creature

in earth's vicinity
who wants to
can observe

the way in which
humans
unfetter themselves

use it
to pieces, like
it's theirs

then—amble off
before the three
bears return.

Monday, June 3, 2019

THE N OF RAIN

The last blast of a storm
hurts less
than the first,
the final drops
nourish more
than the torrents that
came before,
herald the rest
and protection and
quenched thirst
which must precede
all concentration on
hunger or sex—which
in turn, are both
needed to precipitate
growth. Thorn bushes,
dirt, even those inanimate
cracks in the sidewalk
would all assure us
from experience,
if they ever got the chance
to talk: no matter how long
it rains, it stops—
no matter how much
it blows, it won't.

WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS IN THE TWENTY-FIRST-AND-A-HALF CENTURY

Soberly surmising
upon arriving
that he can
never again go home,

the consummate doctor
rolls his old coat sleeves
and proceeds
with his ministry—

knocking with even
greater civility
before entering
each door

in this infinite ward
known as
Public Domain.

So much depends,
he intones over
and over—end of poem.


Saturday, June 1, 2019

AFTER DOUBT

     [A hatching chick] can't afford doubt. Who can? 
     Doubt uses albumen 
     at twice the rate of work.
     —Kay Ryan, "Doubt"

I doubt very much
that brawny doubt
would choose to consume

so many calories
from water and crude lean protein.
At least

for me,
worry and concern
tend to feed on the juicier stuff;

not those jittery
bean-pole aminos—
they go straight for the crystalline

confidence of minerals
warmly suspended
in the reassuring bulk of fat molecules.

When I overthink, it's the yolk
of me that shrinks and pales in color
from its former hale yellow.

At length, though
the poet is correct: all this quibbling
only gets harder

and harder to abide—
while all the while, suspiciously
easier to admit.

In fact, by now simply observing
my own hesitation
is such a catabolic process

that, in order to conserve lean body mass
I must try my best
not to look inside like this.

Friday, May 31, 2019

OH SNAIL

     O snail 
     Climb Mount Fuji 
     But slowly, slowly! 
     -Issa (trans. R.H. Blyth)

Slow and steady
wins the race, I guess
but what if the
race isn't real? No slope,
no sky, it's all
a shell we live inside
as a dreamer
whose vulnerable
mind secretes, in defense,
a fortifying dream.
Will it ever be possible
to succeed
at such a climb—or
to fail? And how
could you tell
the difference? Oh snail,
what the hell?

Thursday, May 30, 2019

PRECIOUS

Every time I said I loved you
was an interest payment
on the truth.

When I told you I needed you
I meant it
as an investment

and investments need protecting.
Every pet name I invented
every darling sweetheart precious

was a password on the account.
And when I'd wax poetic
list all the itty-bitty things I would do

that was me dumping you
out on a table
counting you up like a cartoonish

miser, like a giddy Ebeneezer Scrooge
would do. The sentiment sounded pure.
The aim looked true. The intention

was good—or so I assumed—
as all the gold in the Pharaohs'
airless tombs.

All those times
I'd talk with you, so eager to know
what you'd been up to—

when I held you close
at night and whispered—
when I thundered and roared

like a dragon in a cavern
fiercely guarding
treasures he could never use—

that was me letting you
know I would do
whatever it took

to always be with you.
I was even willing to live all alone
blind as a golem in an

underground cistern
content to bash the brains of fish
against stalagmites every night

for my dinner—if only
I could keep you. I didn't see
how I could lose.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

IN MY HOUSE

In nature, every frill
is useful. Animals' furbelows
go forth and do things;
exaggeration means something
in the discourse of plants.
Guillemots' white bellies
camouflage nicely
against the cloud covered
coastlines of the North Atlantic,
and a certain crazy fuchsia
makes those tropical blossoms
which prefer honeycreepers
inconspicuous to bees.
But indoors, what are all
of our enrichments for?
Quotation marks, arrows, and
huge yellow carets
litter our arid rows of text
like pyramids of fruit arranged
to take up counter space
or fake flowers on the mantle
to make use of the spare vases;
the gaudy color of the
highlighter functions more like
jaundice, signifying the presence
of an underlying disease.
Shiny ornaments on a tree
look pretty, but
they're heavy; and they
stress out the branches.
In my house at least, I think
decorations
just make everything
harder to clean.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

THE ROAD NOT RETAKEN

     I took the one less traveled by,
     And that has made all the difference.

     -Robert Frost

Actually, after Frost did
or did not get lost,
the road not taken
didn't stay open much longer.
Somewhere downtown, in a

marble building's basement,
it was sold for a
song, bulldozed to pieces,
regraded, repaved, covered-
over like a skin lesion.

There's a better-lit bus stop
and a closer-by grocery store
and a high-rise retirement
condominium's auxiliary pick-up
and drop-off lot there now—

and a few people are sad about this
inexorable honing of our
decision-making process, and several
more are happy about it, and the rest
still can't work out the difference.

Monday, May 27, 2019

ONGOING

I'm sure it's no coincidence
that deep down, I'm a homebody—
yet something invisible
careens around this stable nucleus
and relentlessly screams to go

off on vacations. Not to luxurious 
or breathtaking destinations—but
to the unnamed
and the derelict places
where savagery's bygone continuance

now sits silent and disremembered.
A shagged-over bison path
or an abandoned copper mine, for
instance; or a rifleman's lookout post
ruined on the tip of a limestone cliff

so otherwise barren and nonchalant
that what is observed—or should I say
rediscovered there—is nothing
but the luxurious ongoing
of my own breathtaking ignorance.

Friday, May 24, 2019

SECURITY SYSTEM

As an anxious first-time 
homeowner, it really 
eases my mind 

to surround myself 
at all times 
with a few modern conveniences   

which don't exactly work.
It feels high-end when 
I jiggle the handle—I tend to think

duct tape 
is pretty punk rock, and
that Gothic look 

of safety pins 
also smacks of a certain rebelliousness. 
Dead strikers, fickle 

circuits, flattened tires 
propped on bricks—
all perform beautifully

their manifest function
of making me feel like 
less of a jerk.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

THOUGHTS ON A PLANE

Sometimes the sheer
presence of vertical
surfaces around here
closes in on me like it's
some kind of nightmare.

I vastly prefer
the austere look
of the cleared horizontal—
the sheen of morning light
on a completely clean
coffee table, the seat
of a backless desk chair
with no one with no job
perched on it working.

Peculiar, I know. But
I have my reasons.
These things
calm me down, cannot
hide, conceal nothing.
Quiet and attendant,
they always
hold me motionless,
bear noble gravity, and
don't ask questions.

But it's not just the silence
or the cleanliness—I swear,
the orientation of these objects'
planes in space
matters tremendously;

for even a blank wall,
the spotless glare
of a window, the silence
of doors, each concealing
some latent adventure—
all those things seem
to loudly insist
that I'm at the precarious
start of something,

but a clean marble
counter, an empty
kitchen table, a bare rug
stretched out and
sleeping on a polished
hardwood floor—all suggest
without a whisper
that I'm finally here
at the end.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

ZENO'S PARADISE

Since when is fifty-percent
is an F? According to
Zeno, it's the best
you can get. A song
which stalls half-done
is better than one
which never ends. A sun
shining tall at noon
already proclaims the day
a success. And if
no race can ever be won,
once it's half-run, why not pat
yourself on the back, grab
half a banana, and move on.
The only real caveat
to all this, I guess, is
you've got to keep stacking
those failures up:
fifty-percent, then
fifty-percent of what's left,
then fifty-percent of the
fifty-or-so percents
that come next.
I confess, I don't quite
get it myself, and you
may never fully
comprehend it either.
But again: it looks like
we don't ever have to.
At least not entirely.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

X AND Y

These days, it seems like
everything that matters
is actually two things
at the same time.
They say the universe
has two information
states, that it takes two
to tango, and there's
two sides to every story;
but if you look closer
it's even there
in the little things: two
home teams, two
cola companies warring,
two roads diverging
through a wood some-
where, two separate blood
pressure numbers
to remember.

Our systems were built
to process one answer,
but how do we solve
now, for both x and y?
What if, hard as we
try, we can only crack
half of this binary
code while alive?
Do we then die
as we've been living:
crushed by the
shameful weight
of these unattainable
bounties? And doesn't
even that kind
of once-and-for-all sound like
an impossible mix
of definitive
and unsatisfying?

Monday, May 20, 2019

CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE

It can only be
our oldest cruelest faith
which has kept us so poor
in imagination
and yet so rich
in the circumstantial evidence
of pure analogy,
in its association of fine leather
and soft lace
with naughtiness,
of pieces of silver
and men kissing men
and purification in the name
of some higher order
with a bloodthirsty old pirate
playing his best game
of double-cross,
with the gleaming green eyes
of her legendary sexual deception,
with all of old Europe
as a plague pit teeming
with every odd bit
of skeleton you could name.

Friday, May 17, 2019

I DO THE POLICE IN DIFFERENT VOICES

Look at me
talk to you
without even
having to

tap a clammy
tongue against
the backs
of my teeth—hot stuff

and heavy
too if you
ask me: it's like
language

is a time machine
built out of
a DeLorean—
and then

some skinny
poem climbs inside
that loud suit
of armor—and drives.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

LITTLE TRICK

There are days
I desperately
wish to disappear
to transcend the bustling
rooms
of the possible
the stodgy furniture of what already is
to become instead
as a huge doorway swinging
open onto nowhere and nothing
an inconspicuous field
a desolate street at midday
a park with neither
pigeons nor patrons
a perfectly empty alley
then I remember—
I live in the city
where there are no such things—
and just like that
I begin to feel small
and somewhat invisible
and I'm pacified.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

FORGERY

Apropos of the
cold blank
absurdity of the cosmos

the iron in a
blast furnace
gets hotter than the fire;

a few fragmentary
lines, inscribed
after the fact come—with time

to mean
more than the entire
experience.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

WHY I WRITE, MK. II

Because I love to talk—
to give ethereal form
to thoughts

but can't stand the sound
of the yowling
whelps that come out.

Because I once was lost
and embarrassed to
get directions

but now I'm found
and too proud
to acknowledge it.

Because I can never get enough
of the great void opened up
by repetition

but I'm terrified
of that silence which lurks
inside silence.

Because I have
an avian soul—the itinerant brain
of a bird

but the four-
chambered heart
of a nervous old birdwatcher.

Because—how good?
are those little moments
we take time to notice

but—how much better?
must be all those
we miss.

Monday, May 13, 2019

EXPRESSING THE INEXPRESSIBLE

Underneath the impossible glow
of a million-year-old moon

when language first mysteriously
hatched into being

poetry must have emerged
along with it

but still the best way we know
of saying thank you

is to stop
and say thank you.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

EARLY IN THE MORNING

It is a curious thing how
early in the morning
all the world knows
for a moment what it is like
to feel old;

and yet, early in the morning
we who find ourselves
here all together—who rose
or did not rise
who chose or did not choose
to soften in its mild bath of light—

we ourselves comprise
the substance of that new arrival;
we do not flatter the event
we become it—for a second
time, every living creature
every shining thing
is young.


Friday, May 10, 2019

MALCONTENT

Dear downstairs neighbor,
please cut out that racket—
I can hear your dog barking
the clatter of your boot heels
your little children's high pitched squeals
like the raptors from Jurassic Park. 

I constantly smell ridiculous mixtures
of all the elaborate
things you've been cooking—
the french toast in the morning
mingled with stuffed peppers
from last night's dinner
wafting up here while I'm
trying not to eat anything.

It's difficult for me
to focus on my manuscript
to unleash the power of positive thinking
to brood appropriately over my future
when I hear the muffled blare
of Walt Disney's Aladdin—
not to mention all the laughter and
participatory singing.

Come to think of it—
even those lulls
when it's quiet have become
unconstructive; I'm just no good
to fuss over an old poem
dust the undersides of the blinds
clean the whole oven over again

when I'm so distracted by the silence
of your tuckered-out daughters
dozing contentedly
your wife and you sprawled on the
couch drinking wine
or maybe the whole family

down on their knees together
completing some spontaneous
homespun drawing
of what I can only imagine
from upstairs to be
a very respectable freehand circle.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

DRINKING COFFEE AT HOME ALONE

Colombia, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Peru—
each morning at seven, I open
a cabinet door, and I visit these places
which I never plan to visit—
whose names themselves
in the Midwest cornfield of my mind
are shaped like tangles of vines
sticky with dew and slung
among mountains of trees, each heavy
with the ripeness of its fruit.
In the chilly spring dawn, i sit
in the kitchen, trying to sip slowly
and listening for the sounds
of those imaginary mountains.
Naively I wander around destitute farms
laid-back cooperatives with chickens
squawking in the background
mechanistic well-fortified compounds
behind walls of concrete, with red
mansions and black limousines
trying to taste the oppression
of a previous season's tyrannical sun
to inhale the totality of time
and space, to smell the weight
of sheer distance traveled
to feel in my mouth the physicality
of chemistry, the bodily existence
of a Maillard reaction
trying to extract hope
trying to provoke awakening
trying to prolong flavor
knowing full-well
but not wanting to believe
I will not recall any of it
one quick swallow later.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

MORNING ROUTINE

Before dawn each day—
impossibly
high, impossibly far away

uncountable
savage blast furnaces
fire

just to power
the weak light
that yawns through

the kitchen window
by which you like
to sit and sip tea

and thumb through a few
pages of Marlowe,
or maybe

sketch a fragment
of your own about
cornflowers—

before the slightest flutter
of one lid
of one eye

pitiless factories
galactic in size: all working
triple-overtime

toward an infinite quota—
completely for free—
just to manufacture

those sanitized
unbreakable
I-beams of time

which later you
will blithely call
small hours.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

SOMETHING ELSE TO THINK ABOUT

You'd think we'd recall best
all the places we met,
but it's mostly the coming
and going we remember—

not the 1970s smell of halls,
not the bluish blush of instrument
panels in the dashes
of nervous cars,
not the cool darkness
pooled inside the movie theaters
or the satisfying
stickiness of their concrete floors;

but the movement of everything—
the swaying of park swings,
the constant velocity
of driving side-by-side so we'd always
age at exactly the same rate,
the steps between us left to take
across the rattling floorboards
of neon gymnasiums.

And then, there's all the other places
we never got the chance to meet,
their colors swirling invisibly
around the contours of our breaths
like odd remnants of dreams—sheer
but opaque, vivid but silent;

how are we supposed to forget
those memories we don't even possess,
which hover like ghosts
in the black voids of windows
outside the foreclosed
mansions of our minds?

How do we explain to ourselves
all those other times
we seem to have met
before we met
for the first time?

Monday, May 6, 2019

JUST KEEP SWIMMING

I think I might be
starting to worry
that the only way
to keep moving forward
is to forget about whatever

I believe I need
and to let it sink in
again every day
by listening
to the firm but generous

voice of my body—
just keep swimming 
just keep swimming
just keep swimming 
don’t try to fix everything.

It's like even when you
don't believe him,
the deliberate cadence
of the TV preacher
still sounds convincing;

or even in a bowl on a
shelf in your dinning
room, that royal blue tang
swimming in circles
still looks pretty natural—

this must be why
when I lie down at night
I'm a hundred and fifty
pound sack
of learned lessons

but when I wake
up the next morning, I rise
like a prophecy—
one which is warning me

I'd better hurry
and get this
down on paper
before I forget—I might
say anything.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

CULT CLASSIC

You know the one where you're
walking casually
down the street on an early
Sunday and you see
the anointed ones

the chosen few
that narrow crowd
of purple tulips
wet with morning dew—

the strangeness
of those brainless creatures
ethereal tubes that cannot move
and yet have found a way
of bending gently

but intently toward
the Sun, their great master
and silent teacher

that cabalistic healer
who looks without seeing
and touches from afar

that bizarre and monstrous
alien star, burning itself to
complete destruction
a billion times a billion
miles from here—

and for a moment you too
feel absolved
released from your previous
angle of inclination

humbled but exalted
by the braveness of color
the stamina of these forms
of water, the pure white immensity
of light

and all of a sudden
you find yourself
on board, transported
along with this blooming communion
of believers

to a place
where you're not
walking down the street anymore

but climbing
sideways
up the slope of a rock

so huge
and strange, it weighs
nothing?

Saturday, May 4, 2019

HERD OF WORDS

Sorrowful how they cower together
each one so afraid to stand all alone
do they recall how they lived before this
do they remember what they used to mean
the ancient throat which first gave birth to them
before toddlers deemed them adorable
and lawyer fathers argued the cash and
put them in cars bound for pitiful yards
worked them and fed them slop and taught them
tricks and left them out all night in cold rain
now they're out to pasture with blank faces
not one of them having ever given
a satisfactory explanation
of the facts—only here and there one weak
little drop from its own sour perspective.


Friday, May 3, 2019

RETREAT

Most vacations are so exhausting
they're hardly worth the trip—
Edens turn to nightmares
and the logistics of wanderlust
are boring as reading
those Old Testament bible chapters
in which staying begot leaving 
and motion begot turbulence

but far and away the most grueling
excursion I've ever undertaken
involved my staying once
in the exact same place
for as long as I could stand
to ignore—everything else in the universe
plainly
continuing to move.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

HOW TO SING

All the weakest sounds
of things—

faint sizzle
of a dwindled candle

subtle breathing of the newborn
leaves

tarnished old bell
feebly repeating
the only note it knows—

listen
unceasingly—everything
teaches.


Wednesday, May 1, 2019

MOMENT

Wild and untamable though this
creature is
I know

I want it
I want it
I want it

I long to hold it
and give it a name

I connive to ride
on its slinky bare back

I'm desperate to own this
one-of-a-kind specimen

I have to show
it off—or no
I need to keep it
locked inside

to feed it keep it
quiet and delicate-
ly reorganize
my whole apartment around it

deaf to its fuming racket
blind to the swiftly mounting cost

how long have I burned
with this ephemeral fire

I feel as though
I've always known it

I'm certain I
will always know it

and in knowing it so long I fear
I've lost it.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

SANCTUARY

While it rains
and rains
putting the alley sparrows
and the cardinal who sings in the
park out of work
I am grateful
to be employed at all
let alone so gainfully
building a vast new city
of expressivity
or at least a whole district
of rhetorical churches
or at least a neat
row of simple
dwellings made of words
or at least
adequate shelving
in the dry narrow galley
kitchen of my mind
for those
birds to perch on.

Monday, April 29, 2019

AVOCADO TOAST

Buttered bread
is buttered bread—
someone's
charged you double

for the recherché decadence
of assonance instead
of that plebeian
lip-circus of plosives

charged you triple
for a congruently
smoothed-out fat on a
charred bumpy carb

charged you quadruple
and you
have paid it—now who
is this asshole?

Friday, April 26, 2019

POEM FROM LAST NIGHT

Open one eye
to the drool-blotted paper

to the goldfish swimming
through the weak light of morning
in its sterile spheroid bowl;

see how it moves, always
in the same direction—always turning
away
from something.

No wonder—
you so often presume
to be riding

all night
across the subtle breadth
of some
profoundly smooth corner

and wake up
confused to be
right where you were.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

SO FAR

I have stayed inside today.
Like the nimbus
cloud sliding
sluggishly by my
living room window
which has no idea
what its true shape is
or where on earth it
came from—I too
am having a hard time
with beginning
with knowing I was born
with picturing
the ocean—all its
unnamable colors
which nonetheless must exist
which have always existed
which
even now must be
reaching blind in the wind
to rustle a few leaves
outside this window
as if it had my next breath
in mind, as if
it had us all completely
surrounded.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

UNLIMITED ENGAGEMENT

In the universe's world-renowned
downtown cultural arts center,
time is not even a spectator.
Time's just a pillar.

And although distance
attends regularly
and velocity is a major donor,
neither plays an instrument.

But rhythm
sure does. In fact,
rhythm is the star vocalist,
and guess what—its larynx

is us: you and me
and our old high school clique
vibrating ceaselessly in
and out of sync with one another.

Eternity, however, still has the best
seat in the hall, not to mention
the clearest perspective among the
whole orchestra;

so we've all
kind of decided—by default,
it's the only thing really fit
to conduct us.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

FUNCTIONING AS INTENDED

Once liberty bells
as huge and everlasting
as the sort their great
grandfathers and their commanding
officers intended

finally got swinging
hard enough and went
peeling out blind
from the amber waves to the seashores
in all four directions

the freedom they unleashed
was so complete, the
new spaces created by their resonant pressure
were so perfectly empty, so ubiquitous

that no child
who came along nine months later
could even tell the difference.

They grew up confused
about who wrote which protest songs,
forgot the significance
of the betta fish brooding
alone in his undetectable tank water—

and later, one or two
even scolded their own toddler
for not understanding

that they way
she construes the fish's
world is all wrong

and that those special corrective
lenses they bought her
to help her see it better
cost well over three hundred dollars.

Monday, April 22, 2019

TIME LAPSE

Ideally, time
would never really lapse—
time being too clever
and too quick for that.

Ideally, it's just you
and me—losing little bits of it
grabbing coffee,
breaking up, falling

down drunk, signing
contracts, planting trees, eating
pizzas topped with
hot-dogs in front of the TV—

and not often enough, it's
a few lazy photographs, never taken
by either one of us
to whichever abandoned photomat.

Ideally, it's just
my trusty built-in camera
running out of batteries, it's only
your imperfect lenses

whose apertures
like to close at random
or else open halfway, then stop;
in between which

the Giza pyramids
appear to be quickly needled
away by erosion, or all
at once, the great cathedrals

seem to groan
and collapse—into celebrated
museums, with inglorious
gift shops.

UNRUNG BELL

O tacit metal
o infinite odds
o fire without color, brightness, or smell

oh shapely goddess
of fictive music—don't ever tell
us a hint of the riddle.

Disregard even this, as you dispel
all that trembles.
If you've been listening—don't even nod.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

THE CRUELEST MONTH

     What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
     Out of this stony rubbish?
     -T.S. Eliot 

Must be April—when the
daffodils smile
and wave at you
guileless from across
the new sod,
the puckered tulips' gentle
nodding feels strangely
contagious,
even the frowzy dandelions
all seem to curtsy
as you promenade past;
but still, those bony
old sticks of rose bushes
just stand there—
stern as queen mothers,
bloodless as witches—
to puncture your confidence
and berate you for all this
lazy perambulating
with their thorny twisted
middle fingers.

Friday, April 19, 2019

RENTED ROCKS

On Mackinac Island
there's a small art museum.
It consists almost entirely
of maps of the region.

Perhaps this is fitting
as maps are best appreciated as
the shadowy abstract
expressions they are. Functional

as the cardboard
display models in the adjoining toy
and gift store, and accurate
the way a cave painting would be

misshapen as the clay
grave markers
dotting the perimeter
of the cart path out back—

they serve a curiously
chimerical purpose
in a world this ageless, this self-
contained and total.

For a few dollars, though
trickles of visitors
fleeing the sun
will stumble in and frown at these

reasonable parchments all afternoon
looking, as the cartographers
were, for measured answers to
confounding questions—

how many words
for turtle shell were there
before the trappers got here

what were the taxes
on those limestone bluffs
before they were feted

with military canons, then
missionary houses, then finally
gold-roofed summer apartments

how far does the lonely
wind off the straits carry

what color—really
is Lake Huron water?

Thursday, April 18, 2019

HORMESIS

What is this?—the church-sick
people ask, glowering out
their high-rise kitchen
windows on an Easter morning.
Long ago, they were promised
a big deal—
but what they get now
is the distant sound
of a few mellow bells tolling
pastel colored light
and the very small fact
of a cup of tea left out
on the table from last night;
they get last night's rain
still bunched up like grapes
in the Sweetgum branches
and those ghostly dry marks
on the asphalt underneath
where the widowed neighbor's car
was recently parked.
What access
does this barest perception
of objects grant them
into the nature of
possible worlds? Heaven
might be everywhere
but it's far too small
to ever be entered.
Still, are they prepared
to surrender
and let it enter them instead
one line,
one slow tendril, one poetic
spore at a time?
And is that rhizomatic action
fast-acting enough
to inoculate them? To teach
their blind bodies
how to bounce back, how, at last
to save themselves?

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

FEELING WORK

Pay close attention—and
what looks at first
like youthful exuberance

is later unmasked
as a protracted stubborn
teenage phase

what seems like contentment
is only contempt
for the hard labor of expectation

often when we wish we were
somebody else, we will say so
only in the third person

or else
unconsciously sub-in
the word someplace instead

whenever I can't make
a feeling work, for instance
I'm quick

to punch it up with
rhymes, aphorisms, clever
turns of phrase

and those I can't be with
because they need love
kindness, displays of affection

I do my best to replace
with machines
which need simpler things

such as—service
maintenance
preservation.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

DIMINUENDO

After around five
o'clock, six, at least
seven—comes the sound

not of silence, per say
but the rush of city
traffic going down

trading places, maybe
with a dawn river rising
somewhere in Myanmar.

As today's newly
minted flowers, now drowsing
in the heavy dusk

and for whose
inaugural yawn there were
no witnesses

so too, stooped shadows
have mysteriously gathered
under the tall door frames

two, three, at least
four hairs grown whiter,
perhaps to match that

formidable peak
of the tallest mountain
in Nepal.

By eight o'clock,
one by one, the robins'
last calls are

disappearing,
and you and I
must now listen softly

to each other's
music in the
dark for a while.

Monday, April 15, 2019

GRADUAL

Whether or not you're
there to notice
first thing in the morning
there is mist—

low on cold hills
always somewhere in the distance
outside your door
in between the city you live in
and the rest of the
world which purportedly exists

blue as the first church bells'
dull round ringing
still lying heavy in its furrowed beds
shrouded by mazes
of dark woods, and dreaming—

just as you were a minute ago—
of being

touched by warm light
made gradually
unafraid, and rising

one more time to
become the entire air.

Friday, April 12, 2019

SPEED OF LIGHT

late
morning
light hitting
and quick out of
bed and out of coffee
and out of breath running
meditation medicine buzzing
through the dog park and shower
for distraction open up the computer
photo of a black hole on google so godlike
GIF-like historic and a-historic all at the same
time separate tab open shoot quick email to Xfinity
then into the beyond look got to get where I am going
so let's pull out and check the smartphone one more time
to be sure there is still time or speaking of beyond, let's pull
out the smartphone one more time to be sure—time is still there.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

DIRGE

Forgetful as I am, in the
space between movements 
I've had time

to memorialize
the post-its
the photos

the fish tacos
the Dr. Mario
all of it.

Forgetful as I am—and
spent—every
day I wake, I recommit;

I repurchase 
what was known
by knowing it all again—alone.

I might as well
say it in my own 
voice now (since 

this is still how 
I learn things best):
everything we did

and didn't—was melody 
and rhythm.
Anything we could

or couldn't—
different fingerings
for a chord.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

CLOTHESLINE METAPHOR

A poem is a clothesline—
full of words washed clean

and hung up to dry
in the cool breeze

of forgetful eternities
and the antibacterial

gaze of virgin sun—
clean of those old usages

circulating for years,
clean of the stains

of school and work
and church—

exotic and bohemian sizes
billowing back and forth

of familiarly styled signifiers,
some nearly shapeless

from the stretching
of centuries, others seemingly

never even worn before—
and some invisible

thread of love, spiked
here and there

with the stiff pins of longing,
holding the whole

gently swaying
apparatus together—an eerie curiosity

to find while walking
past a haunted house's backyard.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

JUVENILIA

Only April—but already
this nascent city
park is a crazy
patchwork quilt

of ratty actual quilts
doublewide
strollers orange
cones and skittering cleats—no picnic

for the tender
blades of
grass underneath—
or the

shy young Narcissus 
pseudonarcissus 
out on the fringes
shivering in dog piss.

Monday, April 8, 2019

BABEL

Maybe it wasn't a typo.
Maybe the world
needs all its
bad people—the sharks
help the minnows learn
how to swim faster;
a pony who's depressed
finally gets
some privacy
and rest; and those
old insecure deities—
who didn't want us
knowing things,
who fused us together,
but still didn't like to
see us touching,
who never even seemed to
want to hear us
talking cooperatively
amongst one another—
are the ones
we have to thank
for towers
and towers of self-
similar books
full of scrappy blind
poems like that one.

Friday, April 5, 2019

MEETING FRIENDS IN OLD CITIES

Anyplace in the world
where now we might
push a few buttons and easily meet
could hardly be a former
tormented graveyard, could it?

Still, when you laugh
at the size of the soft pretzel vendor's
sidewalk umbrella, you do it
a little uneasily;
and I am having a hard time

ordering bubble tea
because I'm unsure of how
recyclable the container is. It's nice
but a lot of hard work
not to realize

that all around us, these
enlivening feats
of architectural genius
contain many locked doors that
require special keys—

and that
over and over again, we have to
keep paying
if we wish to remain
contestants in a flimsy game show.

Things are like this now, we say
to each other.
The world isn't fair, we acknowledge.
But walking southwest
as the sun sets spectacularly

on all these svelte
monuments to the gracious dead,
we can't keep from feeling
a little exhilarated—and perfectly free
to imagine that it used to be.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

MIXED FEELINGS

You keep hearing—
the gray light of sunrise
is far and away the
best kind of light. but you'll

never be able to say it
like that. For that matter,
what was it the fog rolling
in off lake Michigan

was trying to call out to you
this morning? What on earth
did the black coffee afterward
actually taste like?

So many things
you'll never be able to tell
that have to be told anyway.
It's just business is usually

how the businessmen put it.
This is the province of science 
claims a dental hygienist.
But the poet says—maybe

this is just how it is. Maybe
you only have mixed feelings
about everything
because there's no such thing as

a pure one.
All you can say is—I love this 
too, and wait around
for the emptiness, which

chokes closed the last
line of every poem
to rush in and confabulate
the rest of the details. Maybe it's

pure selfishness
which first drove the mute
soul to dream. Maybe
each new story that's told

is only there to help us
make sense of our own.
Maybe the stars are fading
because it's finally morning.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

EVERYTHING YOU OWN

Isn't it kind of annoying—
you're never alone
whenever you're alone.
All your life
there's been someone
in the other room—
someone with no job
who's always home.
In the late afternoon,
over the muffled blare of 1980s
sitcoms on a television,
you've heard her voice calling—
everything you own, isn't it 
ridiculous—how much does a 
word weigh, what does white
light cost—at the end of the day
everyone loves best 
the things that nobody can.
And when you close
your eyes at night, you often fall
asleep to the sound of her murmuring
over and over, like a
faucet dripping
out in the kitchen:
in this whole universe, 
those titanic engine-room stars
must be the most 
and least real 
things in existence. 

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

WHAT HAPPENED

God, we are all such assholes—
every one of us, so greedy
for plot lines and the nine o'clock 
news of our lives—so eager

to keep making 
new things occur—

just so that we might 
wear their learned lessons 
sequentially stitched 
across our bodies in public,

like keen-eyed little cub scouts 
obsessed with earning badges.

But how often
do we ever 
walk up to another in our tribe
and say—

sit down, friend, gee whiz, I can 
see it in your eyes, 

I can hear the sirens, blaring out 
there in the dark 
corners of your mind.
Please relax,

take a deep
breath, and

tell me: what 
happened.

Monday, April 1, 2019

THINK POSITIVE

Beautifully, cruelly,
day or night; everything we do—

every discontented
face we make, each false move

and every negative gesture, each hair
we carefully slick back in place,

each border we tug on
and tighten like a bootlace,

each graceless moment spent contorted
in the honorable distraction of prayer,

each cruel guillotine
ceiling fan cycle we bear

before knocking more softly
on that closed bathroom door—

every one of these carefully
choreographed negotiations

is cast in the ambient light
from every single star

which has ever existed
and which ever might.

So I'd think peace on earth—I mean
the real kind—might require

a little more
than the end of war.

Friday, March 29, 2019

WALKING ON THE ROOF OF HELL

If the wretched old parishioner
perpetually glued
to the front pew of your childhood
church told the truth, then you're
walking the dog, pushing
the stroller, jogging around now
and again after work, if you're
lucky—all on the vast rooftop
of the devil's terrible castle.
No wonder, then
you've so often
found yourself bemused
by the air's peculiar
coolness in the morning,
the fecund smell of earth
after rain, the sight of
fresh tulips each spring,
each of them nodding
eagerly as you pass their way
with your daughter
as if to say—we're all part 
of the same thing,
their doomed bulbs aspiring
as ever, toward heaven.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

GROSS

On the sidewalk, while the
coffee kicks in, I'm watching
this sticky-headed robin as he

plucks up and gulps
an whole translucent earthworm
from that post-rain muck

of mulch at the curbside—
and all I itch to do in that moment
is pull out a smartphone

and videotape the situation. I guess
to some juvenile part of me, this act
seems worth preserving;

maybe it makes the little kid inside
me think of dinosaurs, and he's
thrilled and afraid

of his own extinction,
of the roller-coaster thrust
of evolution,

of the drive to achieve
this same kinds of radical
and disgusting satisfaction—

after all, here I am, out here
sketching poems for breakfast;
I have work to do later,

issues to discuss, perimeters
to consider. To him, none of those
matter. He owns

his nakedness and is proud
to wear his predatory hunger.
Or maybe it's because, unlike me, he

was born from an egg
that this marauder doesn't even care
what his own mother might say.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

FINAL WORD

In spite
of everything—

clear skies
tonight: copacetic

moonlight.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

LE MOT JUSTE

Sometimes, I wish I was brave
as these crocus buds not yet waving,
for whom silence is eternity
and everything began yesterday;

instead, I cling to a stubborn faith
in an ancient language
which still can't convey
the religiousness of plain light.

But then, I don't know, I want to say,
somehow, maybe—
a decision you can't make
is one that's already been decided—

like the way the fragile skies
and ladies in gray keep weeping
and weeping each spring, but Jesus
keeps getting crucified anyway.

Monday, March 25, 2019

LAST YEAR'S TREES

Last year's trees—do not come back here
without the intensest kind of hunger,
without their old fear of an everlasting
night, without fully expecting

to lose all of their proud currency
and to stand there again eventually
as blind and petrified monuments
to poverty. And so—neither do we

leave without completely losing
control of every appetite,
without forgetting the smooth feel
of the seeds of our anger, without

laying down those heavy
strapped purses and bulging back
pocket wallets which we use
to conceal and carry the calcified

marginalia of our sorrow—and
somehow, without fully expecting
never ourselves to become the neat plots
of land which will re-feed them next year.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

GPS

Saturday nights in the city,
we catch one another
glancing up

at the glossy wrought iron
black gate of sky,
pretending not to be

hunting for stars—as if
privately trying,
by the vague light of their ailing halos,

to discover some sliver, a half-
buried arrowhead, one milky brittle
fossil of fingernail signaling

those directions we all forgot
together—five, ten, maybe twenty
million years ago.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

ON THE CUSP

Still bare Chicago
sweet-
gums quiver

and reach
to thrust
their talons into

tender blueskies
huge
and thrumming

with
Boeing
747s.

Friday, March 22, 2019

LATELY

these morning walks
are getting dangerous—there, I said it.
There is so much
fierce wind up here

on the high wire of the mind! And I
admit, I am far more eager
than graceful—god knows things
are always a little

less pretty than they appear from
ground-level. But the
truth is, it's still
a perfect miracle—I continue to move

like some
parasitic amoeba would: with my
entire body, one fly-by-night pseudo-
pod at a time.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

WHAT'S THE BIG IDEA

I had a dream. I met
my great great grandfather
on a dismal New England shore.
He was a whaler—

a grim dogged hunter
of grotesque blubber. But now
he'd grown
half-blind and old,

and his industry was dying.
I could see holes
in his gloves, and in between
his teeth as he spoke—

it's so cold, and so dirty
and dark where I'm living;
I only wanted to make soap
and sell my fine candles, he told me.

I tried to console him—
don't loose hope.
It came out—don't give up
control.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

ENERGY CONSERVATION MODEL

Speak, if you
can speak

to the voiceless dog
those vast
tongueless forests—of

human nature
as it is;

or else
keep silent
and just do your best

to imagine it
as it was.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

MESSAGE TO KATE FROM LUCY

i am fine
never knowing
where you go
when you go
only that you do
not go
away for good

just like you
are fine too
once i come
since you knew
when i came
i came to stay
that way too

Monday, March 18, 2019

MOTION CARRIED

Hands plunged
deep in the silver kitchen
sink again, cold

water touches them
and flows, and I think,
or really, don't—

this is all completely
made of holes;

weekends,
subsisting by kind permission
of a temporary
dearth of original ideas—most

weekdays, nesting
in those empty spaces
in the middle of certain vowels
where a certain wind blows

nothing but the chunk
of wind that had just a moment ago
come blowing,

nothing but its own
hollow cartoon
sound of wind-blowing,

nothing but—every suspicion
of its own lack of essence
out of existence.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

INDECIPHERABLE CAUSE

What in this world
have I ever truly loved?
A sunrise
Sunday morning
pancake
batter smell
the plagal
cadence of folk
mass songs
or the lone
crow's call? So
I've heard—the blackbird 
is involved 
in what I know,
but I don't
have the smallest
snowball's
chance in
hell of knowing—what she believes
at all.

Friday, March 15, 2019

KING OF THE CASTLE

There's a storm in the forecast.
There are ideas, and then
there are things. My sadness says—
I am not concerned; I am contented 
looking at old postcard photographs 
of lilacs on Mackinac Island. 

There's a storm on the way.
The windowpane is foggy and quivering
like a kid's lower lip. My lack of belief
regards the horizon and
states flatly—I am not mad, I am
simply unwilling to talk about it.

There's a storm raging outside.
Buckets of rain gush down.
My incredulity is staring
out the window, slack-jawed
at this spontaneous abandon
of prudence and caution.

After a while, my confusion
asserts itself, professing its
now-incontestable feeling
that better place than this 
must finally exist.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

LATE-BLOOMING GALAXY

Scientists say—
the middle of something

can't really be measured;
the heart of a process

has a process at its heart,
and you can always

keep zooming in, perpetually
chop it apart

and find smaller pieces.
Which is why,

instead of declaring,
I've always been fine

with just guessing—
that the farther

and farther
out I'd go spinning,

the more dependent I'd grow
on that tiny grain of sand

which lent the pearl
its mystery, that invisible

talisman of confidence
which doesn't exist,

that hole between the lips
of an old first kiss:

my exact center
of mass—

wherever it was
or is.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

DREAM OF AN AFTERNOON

That lakeside park smell—
of jogger sweat
and hot dogs sailing

mildly on the mossy air;
we stop for lunch—
or maybe

just umbrella
stand tea somewhere
verdant in between

the strange alabaster of
pillared museums.
For a beat or two,

we each stop talking,
having balanced
our hollow bodies

so precisely on that
inadequate sliver
of sunbeam straddling

our over-examined
past—and
insensible future.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

COFFEE BREAK

Nothing like
a halfway
decent cup of coffee—
black as the midday
sky is cerulean,
with steam arabesque-ing its
ladders to heaven
above the attendant
and mortally-
still kitchen table—
to make you feel
that you might
somehow, someday,
in another kitchen
far away—
with strange new photographs
adorning its walls
which are
all painted completely
different colors than
these are—
still fall in love
with the life
you have left.

Monday, March 11, 2019

PROBLEM IS

The problem is I love you
with that hunk of me which is
unfinished,

that perfect romantic steak dinner
which is perpetually
still cooking,

with a will that is always
changing and never
was mine to begin with

and lives high up
in the master bedroom of a
dwelling place that is temporary,

a shit apartment, adequate for
a scrawny underfed spirit,
a small body that doesn't physically exist;

no limbs, no tongue
with which to speak
or lick, to taste the dream of air

that floats between the words we say
and those we no longer
say to each other—and

this thing, this stinted love,
this phantom child of us,
I can only guess

must be: so holy, so miraculous
that it still exists, even though it was
never born—at least not yet.

Friday, March 8, 2019

MARCH POEM FROM A HUNDRED YEARS AGO

The city park was finally electrified;
the temperatures had been rising

since early in the morning.
At two, the clouds finally yawned

wide open, allowing fresh sunlight
to come sliding down along

last night's imperious snowdrifts; its
mellow glint, gently blotting out

all of our sharp-cornered thinking.
Everywhere we looked, we saw

nothing—but the bewildering
dignity of very real things.

Every time we paused
to think back, we could recall only

the sound—of laughing
invisible children.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

GENERALLY SPEAKING

Generally speaking,
we are all
the same—whole pieces
who like fitting tight

in those dark parts
of the universe—the ones we've seen
in NASA pictures, in between
the superclusters;

we seem to enjoy
not being seen, while we gaze out
at all the other stars, which seem so
much better than ours;

and we don't mind
feeling helpless—though we do dislike
how awkward
being helpless feels.

But more than anything,
we just love
not talking about it. It's true—once
we were wounded,

but now we don't want
to be healed; all we want is: not to be
wounded in that
exact same place again...eventually.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

TO THE DOGS

Though grateful
to share a scrap of day
or night together,

I wish
I could go where it is
you go after—

mind lying
wide open and redolent
as a shaggy field at high noon;

body parked and idle,
agreeable as
a wood-paneled station wagon

parked in a vacant
lot by the ocean;
mouth hanging so

cleanly open, unpolluted
by words. Sometimes, I call you
but you don't call yourself anything.

Some days I don't call myself
anything either—at least
not anymore.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

MARGIN OF ERROR

It's true what they
say, you know—

all roads
lead to Rome—

which, by
the way, is scheduled—

with every bit
as alluring a mix

of exactitude
and casualness—

to burn
and crack-

up, and hemorrhage
and collapse—

at some
pathetic moment

during
your visit.

Monday, March 4, 2019

ALMOST SPRING POEM

Off the back
porch red railing, a
chip-toothed piano

keyboard of
old icicles dangling

unseen—except
by the sparrows; those
little bits

of lyrical
language about suffering—

thankfully
proclaiming: very little
outside

of their context.
Those things

which help us
suffer less—
we'll eventually have

to stop
abusing them too.

Friday, March 1, 2019

PARLEY

Whenever we sit
together, touching or not
touching, I don't ever wish
to be any wiser
or dumber than I am at that
particular moment—

right, but maybe
wrong; thinking, but then, not
thinking; breathing, or else
waiting for our
next turn to breathe;

we together
animate the spirit—of some
third and
immaculate person,

a perfectly faithful and
loving companion, who wants not,
who alone is capable of wearing
our invisible ring,

and who, finally, is fed and nourished
by every dynamic rhythm
of our being perpetually
a little out of sync—

and to think: all of this hocus-pocus
without the need for any
magic words or provisos or
vestigial ribs.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING

It's a profound moment when
that first morning dawns, in which
everything we once loved is

still dead—and yet, there suddenly
exists simultaneously the impossible
feeling that, one day, it might not be;

that soon, a new season will reanimate
even our even the most hopeless-
ly insubordinate of subjects;

that right now, we are only living
in the breath before the first rusty
note of a new song is sung;

and that, for now, we might
just be content—
to sip coffee inside
draped in lamplight

and to gaze out the window
and witness, with no small
satisfaction—the exhilarating
stillness of objects.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

COMMUTER'S BLUES

Though the journey
is unspeakably long,
every morning
he seems to arrive here

all of a sudden—
as if he were running
from a brushfire closing
in from behind—

to a place that isn't exactly
a remote cave inside
some auspicious
Tibetan mountain;

where not a smudged and
excellent water lily—but
rather, the mass-
produced print of one,

hung behind the single-
serve coffee maker—
marks the location,
instantiates the routine ceremony

of the cut-
off and the dying.
Outside, there's always
the squeal of brakes,

the hoary moan of commuter
trains arriving
exactly on time—
each one, an ardent

horn playing taps 
purely by reflex,
but in some eerily off-
putting minor key.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

LAW OF CONSERVATION

Consider the possibility—
most words don't really
want to be written.

They must be yanked up here
forcibly, one at a time—like
some monstrously ugly

green pike—to struggle
and flop in our heart
shaped boats

from a river which,
on paper, doesn't exist.
Up here, I am a nameless

worker, toiling alone
in my hollowed-
out silence.

No one from that other universe
can even hear this; nobody
watching, or daring

to stop me—from
damming up a desert
in order to fish.

Monday, February 25, 2019

MAN FROM ANOTHER PLACE

Here he comes now, the world-
famously untroubled
hot air balloon pilot—

old-time goggles
made of leather, big white
scarf, the whole nine yards—

back down here, one supposes,
for a quick spell on the
drab crowded planet

to do a little
laundry, buy some
eggs, check the mail, et cetera.

Here's to survival, to never hearing
anyone; here's to the most successful-
ly lonely man in existence, I salute

silently to the Hollywood vanity mirror
recently installed in the bathroom—
while somebody else, who must be

somewhere far away from here
is calling, nearly yelling—good morning! 
you handsome devil.